06 September 2014
Forks of the Kern
Camp Tecuya may have been "my" camp and I knew every inch of the grounds after all the winter weekends, summer weeks, and staff working weekends, but Camp Mountain Meadows was my favorite. They offered multiple camp units for backpacking. One for beginners did a 3-4 day trip, another did a 5-6 day trip, and a third did at least 2 weeks on the John Muir Trail. (My recollection is that they through hiked it in 3 weeks, but it seems unlikely that memory is accurate.) It is the only camp that had a camp song, and yes, I do remember it. I have since heard it sung with another camp's name inserted and suspect it is just a standard one. For some reason, the songs we sang there seemed a little more sophisticated. "On the Loose" and "Moon on the Meadow" were absolute favorites and one counselor would get out her guitar and sing "Big Yellow Taxi", so when a cover later got lots of radio play it lead to happy memories of camp for me.
I am going to say it was 1989 when I did the shorter backpacking unit. We learned about compasses and maps and how the two work together. We learned about essentials and were forbidden any watches as we packed. We were dropped off at Forks of the Kern, at the end of the road just past a boy's camp. We were headed across to a second trailhead where we would be picked up at the end.
From Forks of Kern, the trail drops just over 2 miles to the Little Kern. I think we may have camped here, but I only remember the last camp site (which was here) for sure. This was a fun bit of water, quite wide but not even up to our knees as we waded through it barefoot. After the Little Kern, we hiked on to the Kern River and started hiking up it toward a foot bridge. We were not making good time, and it was decided we would trim the trip a little by using the ford instead of the bridge. The Kern River proper is nothing like the Little Kern. The water is swifter and much wider and quite cold. For this crossing, we were instructed to remove our socks, but put our shoes back on because we needed the footing. The head counselor decided we should cross one at a time and she would carry our packs so we would not have that burden if we fell. The river was up to our knees at first, then up to our thighs, and at the far side up to our waist. I was last and by that time the cold water had gotten to her and she stumbled toward the end. It just meant there was a little moisture on a synthetic sleeping bag, but it was a good thing there was not another one of us.
After the river, we struck out across a very dry and very flat area with well spaced trees. Cow paths intertwined with and obscured our trail. We quickly took to following the blazes instead of the trail. Unfortunately, no one blazes trails anymore. Even if they are all there, the next one tends to be just a little too far away to find. Without upkeep, fallen trees remove blazes, new growth obscures them, and sometimes the tree heals over. Eventually, we lost the blazes as well. We continued on, but not in the right direction. Out came the compass and map and while some sorted out a route, the rest of us learned to use the compass as our missing watches. Just point a hand to the north and look our your shadow. The arm is the 12 and your head points at the time. A few refinements for the season or being after 3 and you can be within 15 minutes pretty reliably.
It was decided we would climb a local peak, so up the hill we went. It was not a hard climb and when we got to the top, we dropped down the other side. Only we didn't drop down any other side. We were still too close to the Kern. We hit a creek and could not help but notice the perfect water slides between two of the pools. We slid and splashed for a couple hours in the afternoon heat before continuing on, roughly back the way we came. We dropped back down to the Kern and followed it until finding a spot that looked good to cross. A tentative crossing to test it showed that this crossing was much easier than the official ford. With boots and packs on, we crossed, this time in a small cluster. The water only came up to our knees and was not all that swift. We quickly found the trail on the other side and followed it back to the Little Kern to camp.
At camp, we managed to have something else go wrong. While collecting water that evening, we sucked a minnow up the tube of the First Need and pumping came to a dead stop. I actually think it was the second minnow we had got with the filter. Prefilters were not common then and only a few people were finding it all worked a lot better if you tied a bit of tee-shirt over the end. We tried, but could not fix the filter. In the morning, we ended up boiling water for the hike back up out of the canyon. It was a long time before that water was cool enough to drink. Oddly, the small sips we took of the hot water sated our thirst just as much as a larger sip of cold would have. We hiked to the boy's camp to call our ride and get it redirected to where we actually were.
The boy's camp ended up being an adventure too. They were very generous to us and invited us to join them for lunch, although at our own table. There, each person at a table went over to each of multiple stations to get plates, silverware, and dishes of food to bring back to the table. We were sat at one table just before the boys came in with a giant ruckus. They quickly gathered everything and dropped it on their tables. The dishes of food emptied out onto the plates and the plates emptied out into the boys, then they shuffled off for washing tubs and clean dishes were returned. Somehow with all that eating, the ruckus never quieted. It all took them a half hour, then they all rushed out and it was quiet. We were maybe half done with eating and finished at our own pace, then followed suit with the washing.
While we waited for our ride, we were pointed at the soda spring that bubbles up at the edge of the local creek and given packets of flavored powder so we could enjoy sodas. The creek had nice little wash tubs and so we had another hour or so of water fun with natural fizzy water. All in all, it was a most excellent complete failure and we loved it in almost every moment. That first Kern crossing was a little worrisome.
(For the map above, the black line shows where we went and meant to go, the red line shows where we planned to go, and the purple line shows where we actually ended up going. All of this is my best guess based on the clues of a camp and the Little and Big Kerns being involved. The guess probably gets steadily worse as it goes. The creek we found with excellent water slides may or may not have been Rattlesnake and they were almost certainly not where I've drawn the line intersecting with it.)